On February 21, 2014, NEW MOON was officially unveiled in Triangle Park. Stephanie Harris, the Executive Director of the Lexington Art League (our amazing hosts and sponsors) gave a short and very kind address, followed by the Mayor of Lexington, and then they invited the public to step up and engage with the sculpture – take part in the art.
We weren’t sure whether there would be hesitance or shyness, but children (as usual) were the first to step forward – with characteristic gusto! Within minutes, they were chasing each other around and around, pushing the wheel as they went, and having a splendid time.
While we’ve discussed the pros and cons of interactivity in previous blog posts (especially when the under-estimated powers of kids are involved) NEW MOON had its fair share of interactivity-related turmoil. Before the sun even set on the installation, the interactive mechanism of the sculpture (so finicky, hand-manufactured, and specialized in the first place) managed to break a weld inside one of the legs, rendering the interior disk static and paralyzing the moon’s faces. Luckily, this did nothing to dissuade the enthusiasm of the crowd, who continued spinning the wheel relentlessly far into the night.
While this was an unexpected draw-back (we did managed to fix the moon before leaving Kentucky) the positive influence of creating free, public artwork in an open city space is immeasurable, especially work that can – and should – be directly touched by human hands.
Interactive work struggles against its own demons – this is difficult work to create. It is often (and mistakenly) placed in a category next to product design, mass-produced objects, and playground equipment, when it is none of these things (and couldn’t be, based on the millions of dollars and hundreds of product tests used to design and create them). Instead, interactive art uses a shared language, often referencing familiar everyday (and yes, mass produced) objects to elicit an intuitive response from the viewer. With CLOUD, a pull-string says “pull me.” With NEW MOON, the wheel says “turn me.” We are borrowing these understandings from popular culture, and re-appropriating them to draw the viewer into the work, asking them to engage with the art and with each other.
The purpose of “play” is much studied by sociologists and psychologists, both searching for the impetus behind the human desire to engage in functionless fun (functionless in the immediate sense of the word, although arguably developmentally imperative). To us, play is a delicious access point, offering an invitation, a first step into each work. Once inside, the viewer has more decisions to make, more potential understandings to unearth and discover. Sometimes playful work is ignored because it is seen as too accessible, even childish. We think of play as the key to unlocking a whole hallway of new doors for those who choose to venture further.
With NEW MOON, interactivity offers a range of potential interpretations. In controlling the phases of the MOON, the viewer is rising into a pre-determined god-space, controlling a rendering of time. Light bulbs (particularly burnt out bulbs, crowd-sourced from local communities), ideas of light vs. dark, the connotations of celestial bodies, relational aesthetics, macrocosms/microcosms, consumer cultures, and all the rest are offered as other doors to open. But this blog is too long already – you can read more verbose dribblings on Aesthetica Magazine’s blog.
Stay tuned to hear about our second work in Lexington – BELLWETHER – as well as our experiences with CLOUD at i Light Marina Bay in Singapore.